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Immortal maths

Beware split infinitudes. Numbers can kill!

By Jim Holt   March 2001

How big is a killion? That, in case you didn’t know, is a legendary number so enormous that the mere apprehension of it is fatal to humans. It stands to reason that such a number exists. Humans are finite; numbers go on forever; eventually numbers must become lethal in their sheer immensity.

But how do we come to know truly huge numbers? One way is by naming them. The first really impressive number that most of us encounter as children is one million. Now, a million is no killion. It is easily domesticated, as Maria Drew, a housewife from Iowa,…

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